Getty Trust pres­i­dent dies

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Steve Mar­ble steve.mar­ble@la­times.com

Harold Williams over­saw con­struc­tion of the Getty.

When Ron­ald Rea­gan was elected pres­i­dent, Harold Williams knew his days in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal were near an end.

He’d had a four-year run as chair­man of the Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion un­der Pres­i­dent Carter, but with a Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion mov­ing in, it was time to look for a new job.

Williams was con­sid­er­ing open­ing a law of­fice in Wash­ing­ton when a friend called from Los An­ge­les. Would he be in­ter­ested in com­ing back to L.A. and tak­ing a lead role in over­see­ing the for­tunes of an ec­cen­tric bil­lion­aire with an eye to­ward build­ing a mu­seum?

Williams had been a tax at­tor­ney at Hunt Foods, a con­fi­dant of phi­lan­thropist Nor­ton Si­mon and a busi­ness school dean at UCLA, but what he knew about art was lim­ited.

“When I was grow­ing up in Los An­ge­les, all we had were “Pinkie” and “Blue Boy” at the Hunt­ing­ton Li­brary,” he said in a 2016 in­ter­view with UCLA’s School of the Arts and Ar­chi­tec­ture. “That was about it.”

Still, there was some­thing oddly in­trigu­ing about the of­fer and Williams took the job, be­com­ing the found­ing pres­i­dent of the J. Paul Getty Trust and over­see­ing con­struc­tion of the Getty Cen­ter, the Brent­wood cam­pus that is part of the re­spected J. Paul Getty Mu­seum. Williams ad­min­is­tered the trust and over­saw the hill­top art in­sti­tute for 17 years, a pe­riod of re­mark­able growth as the trust nearly tripled in size, the Getty be­came one of the na­tion’s most vis­ited mu­se­ums and the white-splashed cam­pus be­came an L.A. land­mark.

Up un­til his death Sun­day at his home in Santa Ynez, Williams con­tin­ued to show up for meet­ings and at­tend events at the Getty. He was 89.

“The Getty to­day — its global reach and its South­ern Cal­i­for­nia pres­ence — is a legacy of Harold M. Williams,” said Maria Hum­merTut­tle, chair­woman of the Getty Trust’s board of di­rec­tors.

When Williams took the job to over­see the Getty Trust, the oil ty­coon’s money was still tied up in pro­bate. But when the trust fi­nally re­ceived its en­dow­ment of $1.2 bil­lion, Williams and Nancy Eng­lan­der, Getty’s di­rec­tor of pro­gram plan­ning and Williams’ fu­ture wife, scoured L.A. for a home for the Getty.

They ruled out the ex­ist­ing Getty Villa in Pa­cific Pal­isades, de­ter­min­ing that ex­pan­sion would de­stroy the mu­seum’s charm. They con­sid­ered the Am­bas­sador Ho­tel, which had been in de­cline since the 1968 as­sas­si­na­tion of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in the ho­tel lobby. But the price tag was too high. And they eyed Veter­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion prop­erty in West­wood they thought Rea­gan might elect to sell.

The two set­tled on a Brent­wood hill­side they thought would pro­vide the nec­es­sary space and a con­ve­nient lo­ca­tion for res­i­dents in the city and those in the Val­ley. Some civic lead­ers — and a Los An­ge­les Times art critic — were dis­mis­sive of the lo­ca­tion, say­ing the mu­seum should have been in the city core. But Williams cringed at the thought of a mu­seum be­ing squeezed into a city block.

“I didn’t want to build a mu­seum for art afi­cionadas,” Williams said in the UCLA in­ter­view. “I wanted to build a mu­seum that had a chance of at­tract­ing peo­ple who are not nat­u­ral mu­seum-go­ers.”

Born in Philadel­phia on Jan. 5, 1928, Williams came west with his fam­ily when he was a child so that his older brother could take ad­van­tage of a schol­ar­ship of­fer from USC.

His fa­ther had gone bank­rupt dur­ing the De­pres­sion and the fam­ily did not have the money to pay tu­ition at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, his brother’s first choice. They lived near the USC cam­pus, and Williams at­tended Roo­sevelt High School and then UCLA. He earned a law de­gree at Har­vard.

Williams said he be­gan to see the mag­netic pow­ers of art when he worked for Si­mon, a ra­bid art col­lec­tor who at any one time would have dozens of paint­ings in his of­fice that he was con­sid­er­ing pur­chas­ing.

Si­mon, who be­came one of the world’s lead­ing art col­lec­tors, fre­quently asked Williams to cri­tique the art­work. When Si­mon was in­trigued with a paint­ing lo­cated else­where in the coun­try, Williams was as­signed the task of look­ing over po­ten­tial ac­qui­si­tions dur­ing busi­ness trips.

“The amaz­ing thing about my life is that so many of the things I have gone on to do have come out of left field,” Williams said.

Af­ter re­tir­ing, Williams served on the UC Board of Re­gents and later as a board mem­ber of the Los An­ge­les An­nen­berg Metropoli­tan Project, a school re­form ef­fort. Be­fore be­ing asked by Carter to head the Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion, Williams had been dean of UCLA’s An­der­son School of Man­age­ment.

He is sur­vived by his wife, Nancy; a son, Ralph; a daugh­ter, Su­san Za­jd­man; a step­son, Derek Mag­yar; and four grand­chil­dren, Drew, Jenna, Elana and Josh.

Robert Durell Los An­ge­les Times

MAK­ING ART AC­CES­SI­BLE “I didn’t want to build a mu­seum for art afi­cionadas,” said Harold Williams, found­ing pres­i­dent of the Getty Trust.

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